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How to manage (and normalize) menopause at work

May 20, 2022, 4:00 PM UTC
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How to manage (and normalize) menopause at work.
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Menopause is a simple fact of life and a reality of the workplace: Every year, 1.3 million people enter this stage that lasts an average of seven years. And yet, most companies have yet to develop concrete ways to show up for their employees during this transformative time, when many are just reaching the peak of their careers. One survey conducted in the U.K. estimates almost one in five menopausal women are considering exiting the workforce due to lack of support from their companies. Put simply, there’s no roadmap for navigating the mental and physical aspects of working while going through menopause.

Menopause dovetails with various uncomfortable symptoms, including hot flashes, fatigue, chills, depression, brain fog, and mood swings—all of which you can’t leave behind at home when you head into the office. “Imagine a woman in the boardroom who breaks into a sweat at an inopportune moment, such as in the middle of a presentation, and literally has perspiration dripping down her face and soaking her blouse,” says Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, Director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). 

“Having menopause symptoms at work can be very stressful for women, particularly under high stakes situations…” says Dr. Faubion. It’s particularly complicated territory to navigate for women and employees of color who are already forced to deal with other stigmas at work. 

The onus for making the workplace a safe, comfortable place falls on company leadership. However, for those feeling drained from hiding or managing menopause symptoms at work, you are not alone, and there are ways to take care of, and advocate for, your well-being when you’re on the clock. 

Be aware of your symptoms 

There’s tremendous power in knowing what’s going on with your health, points out Sarah de la Torre, MD, OB/GYN with Joylux, which makes products designed to improve intimate health for menopausal women. However, a 2018 survey conducted by AARP found that though 84% of women said their symptoms interfered with their lives, only 42% had ever discussed menopause with their health care provider. 

Having a candid conversation with your doctor can open the door to finding relief. “There are many safe and effective therapies for menopause symptoms, and women should address these symptoms with their healthcare professionals,” says Dr. Faubion. Hormone therapy, low-dose antidepressants, and vaginal therapy, as well as lifestyle changes, are among these treatments.

Of course, finding an affirming health care provider can be more difficult for folks belonging to BIPOC or LGBTQ+ communities. “[Black people] may also find little to no support from clinicians who generally don’t screen for or make the connection between menopause and our complaints about sleep deprivation, anxiety, dizziness, or just not feeling well,” says Sonya Young Aadam, CEO of California Black Women’s Health Project. So if this experience resonates with you, consider finding your doctor through resources like the BIPOC Women’s Health Network or OutCare Health (a health network for the LGBTQ+ community).

Create a well-being strategy for work

The wisdom you gain while working with your doctor will also help you know exactly what to ask for at work. Maybe your night sweats are interrupting your sleep; you can use that awareness to ask for a later start time, or a break during the day so you can rest or nap. Perhaps the antidepressants used to dull your hot flashes also happen to upset your stomach; you might work from home until your body adapts to the new medication. If hot flashes are made worse by the office temperature, you can ask to be moved closer to a window or an air conditioning vent.

You may also find relief in sprinkling in small acts of self-care throughout your workday, like deep breathing exercises, which may help with mood changes, or taking B6 vitamins, which might help with depression and low energy. Other practical steps, like switching from hot to cold drinks and dressing in light layers, might help lessen the odds of a hot flash.

Normalize menopause through conversation 

If you feel like you’re the only one going through menopause, think: Do you have workplace advocates? “Many women are so relieved once they have a conversation with their colleagues …. Most colleagues want to support but don’t have the knowledge or tools to do so,” says Dr. de la Torre. “With a little direction, you can hopefully add to your list of advocates in the office while making things a bit easier, and potentially even finding some humor in the madness.”

If you feel comfortable enough with someone at the office, you can tap into your vulnerability and bring up what you’re going through with your colleagues or reports. Yes, this will help you on an individual level—but it will also kickstart the process of normalizing menopause acceptance in work environments. “Menopause in the workplace is where pregnancy and lactation were 30 years ago. Employers need to understand this is a normal occurrence, and supporting women through this transition is in everyone’s best interest,” says Dr. Faubion. 

The relationships you make with your coworkers may also lay the groundwork for policy change within your company—and other companies—in the future. “What we really need are better workplace policies to help support women with menopause symptoms in the workplace,” says Dr. Faubion. “In the absence of such policies-which are essentially non-existent in the United States, women should be able to discuss menopause symptoms openly and without fear of discrimination.” 

At the most, maybe your honesty is a spark that ignites a menopause care program at work; at the least, it may empower you to ask for a more relaxed dress code policy or the flexibility of working from home or to turn off your Zoom video. These changes are a critical step toward all people feeling safe and cared for in professional settings.

Hopefully, your advocacy and honesty now—be it outside or inside of work—will eventually result in a future that values people going through menopause for what they are: experienced, skillful minds. “Midlife women are often at their peak in terms of their careers, productivity and creativity, and allowing them to be their best selves benefits everyone,” says Dr. Faubion.

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